Numb3rs does add up
A lot of people have asked my opinion about Numb3rs, simply because it's a TV show about maths (for you Americans out there, I mean 'math'). Being a writer with a degree in the subject, what I can say is that overall it's a pretty good show.
Dramatically, it's a buddy cop show with maths as the gimmick. One is a hardened FBI agent; his brother is a mathematical genius. The FBI comes up against tough cases, and the maths genius comes up with the clever way of solving them.
The stories are usually solid but unspectacular, and if it wasn't for the maths, it wouldn't be that interesting. The dialogue is actually pretty good and the character insights are well done, especially for the mathematical brother. Mathematicians like the world to fit. We're always looking for patterns and we get especially annoyed when something just doesn't jive. When we figure it out, we rejoice because the world makes sense again. I think the show at times captures that sort of thinking well.
The maths for the first season of the series is fairly solid. Credit for authenticity goes to a Professor at CalTech who acted as a consultant, and a lot of the techniques used are ones that have been applied in real-life cases. The only problem I forsee is that they'll run out of clever ideas and will have to resort to the stupid hand-waving technobabble that we see in most geek shows. The facts seem to bear this out; none of the first four episodes of the second season are as interesting as what's in the first season - mathematically speaking, that is.
On top of everything, the show also co-stars Navi Rawat, and I don't say no to a hot mathematician. What they say to me is a different matter altogether.
Goal! (or why I now want to make a great football film)Watching Goal! makes me want to go out and make a great film about football that excites the soul and infuses passion into even the naysayers. A film that non-football fans will watch and then lean back and say, "Ah, I get it now". A film whose footballing moments stir the blood to a frenzy and makes you explode with a roar when you see the ball hitting the back of the net. Because, you see, Goal! isn't that film.
Thank God I got to watch the film for free, because I would have felt cheated to have paid anything for it. They were giving out free tickets, you know. If they were doing that to generate good word-of-mouth, then I apologise for not paying them back in return, but it is a crap film. I have no idea how else to say it.
The short of it is that Goal! is about a young man who has grown up in the barrios of Los Angeles finally achieving his dreams and playing football for (wait fo it) Newcastle United. Ah well, it is fiction after all, and it is the first of a trilogy, so I suppose he'll go on to play for Real Madrid and at the World Cup and then perhaps become President of FIFA or something. The world is his oyster.
I have to admit that the first third of the film is actually fairly well done. It looks promising, lulling you into a sense of oh-this-looks-interesting-I-want-to-watch-this. And then it goes and beats you over your head with it's dull plotting, insipid dialogue and uninspiring football.
There are basically four threads in the story: His rise to success, his relationship with his father, his relationship with a girl and his relationship with a spoilt irresponsible star player. It is to the writers' credit that they have managed to keep each thread apart enough that it almost feels like we're watching four separate stories. There's no sense that it fits together as a whole.
The dialogue runs a fine line between adequate and sheer corniness. Corny lines are fine, in the right place. In the beginning, the scout asks the coach "Did you teach him how to play like that?". The response: "God taught him how to play". I loved that line, because I felt good about the movie at the time. Yah, it's corny, but it's great too. It's the sort of line that an enthusiastic mentor might proudly say of his charge. A hundred minutes later, another piece of dialogue ensued. It was corny as hell. And because I was fuming about the film already, it didn't seem so cutesy any more. I won't repeat it here, because I want you sit through the same rubbish that got me to that frame of mind before you hear it. If you're not hurling something at the cinema screen by that point, I commend you for your restraint.
But the biggest problem (and this is unforgivable) is that the film doesn't love football. For a movie that intends to celebrate the game, it compelely ignores the fact that the game isn't about winning (or life and death - it's more than that, remember?). A true fan of the game knows that it's about the moments. Michael Owen beating two Argentinian defenders to hammer home a goal at the World Cup. David Beckham petulantly lashing out at an Argentinian later that same game. The highs and the lows. Yes, you win, but you also lose, and the contrast is what's important. To win in itself is nothing. That's why nobody remembers any of the 4-0 thrashings Man Utd gave lower ranked teams, but everyone remembers the last-minute comeback they had against Bayern Munich.
In the film, skill is demonstrated with closeups of players legs doing 360 turns. The film doesn't get that you can't watch the game from three feet away. You need to give it it's due stage. You need to see an skillfully executed move in its entirety to be amazed, not some fast-shifting, out-of-focus barf-a-vision alternative. I could download ten clips of football from the Internet that is each more inspiring than the film. Why didn't they watch those clips and recreate that excitement?
Finally, the film doesn't realise that the game and its players in real life is greater than the moments it tries to portray. Early on, the kid takes bets, where he shows he's skillful enough to shoot the football down an alley into a dumpster. A dumpster. A f&*^* dumpster. I could hit a ball into a dumpster half the time. Do these guys not know the story of a young Roberto Baggio playing in the streets? He used to kick out street lightbulbs with his football.
Later on, he shows his determination to stay and practice and improve by hitting balls into an empty net. From inside the penalty box. If you blindfolded me, I don't think I could have done much worse. Here's a hint to the writers: David Beckham's father used to bring a tyre along when his son practiced. Here, let me write up a free scene for you.
EXT. FOOTBALL PITCH - NIGHT
SANTIAGO is on the football pitch. In the backgroud, the GROUNDSKEEPER is watching Santiago practice. Santiago has lined up footballs and is kicking them into a net one by one with monotonous regularity. He's hitting them hard, but it's an empty goal, so it's no big deal.
The Groundskeeper walks off screen and comes back rolling a tyre and some rope. Santiago watches him as the Groundskeeper ties the rope to the tyre and then hoists the tyre so it hangs under the goal crossbar, in one corner. Santiago looks quizzically at the Groundskeeper. The Groundskeeper points to the tyre. Santiago gets it.
Santiago now is kicking footballs at the goal, but he's aiming for the tyre. He keeps missing at first, but then he finally hits the tyre. Santiago beams at the Groundskeeper. How's that?
The Groundskeeper stares back hard at Santiago.
No... _through_ the hole.
Yeah. I want to make a movie about football.
Although, it did mention the best football team; too bad they lost to Arsenal in that final league game of '88/89. :P